It is more important than it has been during my lifetime to affirm a love of country — love — not frat-boy braying, not proto-nazi wannabe nationalism, not predatory, mercenary f*** em’ all I got mine economics, not brain-dead grumbling resentment of anyone unwhite, but love, that abiding affection, that appreciation of sacrifice and actual heroism and the daily calm of democratic institutions, that yearning for us to be as good as our best words and leaders and actions, that willingness to look spot-on at our weaknesses, at our atrocities, at our continuing failings and to acknowledge that we must do better, we must be more resolute, more courageous, show more humility, embrace a universal code of decency.
For me, as I suspect for many, this love is a shifting mosaic, a long collection of images and words and stories that we add to and continually reshape. Thus, it is probably easier to speak of themes than direct statements and thus, for me, of courage under fire, of grace under pressure, of visionary decisions, of justice served.
My mosaic is composed of Harriet Tubman’s nineteen trips South to rescue over 300 people from bondage, by Lincoln walking down from Willie’s deathbed to confront the awful telegraph which never stopped receiving news of the daily horror of the Civil War. By Dr. King, so much of Dr. King, but especially standing in the pulpit of the First Baptist Church on May 21, 1961 and calming the crowd while a mob howled for death just outside. By the outnumbered U.S Marshals who formed the cordon that kept that mob from burning his congregation alive. By Barack Obama among broken parents and police officers in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012. By Whitman’s poems, by Thoreau’s love of wilderness, by Theodore Roosevelt’s creation of National Parks. By John Muir roping himself into the top of a Douglas Fir and swinging wildly, exultantly, through a storm. By both Meriwether Lewis and Crazy Horse. By wolves in Yellowstone, by the women who graduated from Army Ranger School, by Medal of Honor winner and medic James McCloughan, who despite his own grievous suffering went to the aid of his men under fire and rendered helpless by their wounds.
We must assert our vision of this love, and not allow it to be overcome by cynicism or adopted by racists or those reactionaries who wish to club us into submission with their calls to exclude, to hate, to fear, to embrace blind obedience. If you have not done so, it is time to name the stones that form your own mosaic and thus to help reclaim the ground from the nihilists who want to say they alone are American.